HS2 – accessibility of online recruitment system

HS2 is the High-Speed Rail project which will deliver high speed rail services between London and Birmingham by 2026 and to Manchester and Leeds by 2033. HS2 will provide additional capacity on the UK’s rail network in addition to reducing journey times allowing businesses and people from across the UK to access more opportunities.

What did they do?

Last year HS2 started a re-launch of their careers site, making sure that everyone can find out about, access, and apply for opportunities. HS2 Ltd aims to be the industry leader for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). To achieve this, it knew it had to change the way it attracted talent so that the workforce reflected the true diversity of the UK.

The previous HS2 Careers website was fairly basic. It was not designed with the needs of disabled people in mind and it needed to attract candidates outside the profile of the traditional rail demographic. Attracting people from outside the rail industry would have the benefit of bringing in more women, and more people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to help reflect the communities that will be impacted throughout the project.

HS2 worked with two key groups: its employment advertising partner, TMP, and the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC), an organisation of digital accessibility experts. TMP helped HS2 create a compelling narrative and a brand that would be attractive to the most diverse range of talents possible, and would reach people outside the infrastructure industry. TMP’s narrative focused on aspirational themes of the HS2 project, and then drew in the people angles.  

The DAC helped HS2 to develop a website that everyone could use to learn about HS2, find roles and apply for them. The descriptions of images and captioned videos needed to be vastly improved to enable people using screen readers to be able to play and pause video. Some of these problems were easily fixed, while some have required a bit more work. The issues that the DAC raised were comprehensively addressed, and the careers website is now fully accessible. The HS2 site has now achieved AA Accessibility Accreditation, and is at the final stages of full DAC certification.

In addition to achieving AA accreditation, HS2 have added two tools to the recruitment process to ensure each candidate can demonstrate their full potential.

Clear Talents is a tool that allows candidates to advise HS2 of any adjustments that they may require at specific stages of the recruitment process. This demonstrates its commitment to ensuring that each stage of the recruitment process is accessible and inclusive.

During the accessibility audit, accessibility issues were encountered due to SAP (the on-line recruitment system) registration fields with contained CAPTCHA images. To counter the issues due to the SAP registration process, the AccessIn tool provided by the DAC was used, which provides a fully accessible alternative method of registering on the SAP system.

Tools that HS2 used

  • Clear Talents in Recruitment
  • AccessIn
  • Web accessibility audit

What was the impact?

The impact has been considerable. HS2 have seen 531 adjustment requests since it began using the Clear Talents tool. In the last four months, three applicants have used the AccessIn feature.

HS2 now has clear accessibility procurement requirements for all digital products and services and has a new recruitment solution that will remove issues relating to SAP and the use of CAPTCHA images during the registration process.

Were there any challenges?

The initial challenge was ensuring that the resourcing and IT teams understood the barriers that the original application process contained. To help develop an understanding of why accessibility is so important, the team took a trip to the DAC, where each member sat with a web accessibility auditor and tried to apply for HS2 roles using a variety of assistive technology. The ‘accessibility experience’ ensured the teams made an emotional connection with the importance of accessibility.

Hints and tips

HS2 would always recommend ensuring that people working in recruitment and IT get a practical understanding of the barriers caused to applicants by a lack of accessibility rather than considering it a theoretical or an IT-based issue.

“Making sure that we have an accessible recruitment portal is an important step towards being an exemplar of EDI practice.”

Mark Lomas, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion